The unstoppable global trends unleashed during VET’s toughest year

Vocational education had a tough time around the world in 2020, but the way it has adapted and changed also tells us a lot about the future.

Knowing you’re not alone can help people through all sorts of challenges and difficult times.

The same should go for Australia’s vocational education sector. A report from the International Labor Office of the The World Bank has showed that, when the pandemic of 2020 was sweeping around the world, the technical and vocational education sectors of many global jurisdictions were scrambling to adapt at pace, keep their operations running, and continue to deliver skills.

Australian VET providers, in the heat of this crucible moment, were far from alone. But what does this collective great global adaptation tell us about the future we all face together? Here are five international trends that The World Bank’s report suggests can’t be put back in the bottle.

 

1. Online learning is here to stay (and to grow)

The rapid and necessary shift to online learning was a case of ‘learning by doing’ around the world. Viewed on a global scale, few countries or providers had ‘a sufficiently strong basis of equipment, connectivity and remote learning software and platforms, pedagogical resources, or students and instructors with the necessary digital skills to be able to adapt their services smoothly’.

This has now irreducibly changed. ‘Respondents noted the pandemic had forced them to accelerate existing plans to expand remote learning options, and that expertise on the provision of remote training had increased substantially. Various respondents highlighted their experience of blended learning, noting the importance of its role and its potential value beyond the crisis.’

 

2. Some practical skills can be delivered remotely

The ability to impart practical skills and training – VET’s primary value-add – was the most impacted function during the pandemic, as face-to face modes like workshops disappeared. ‘For practical skills typically delivered in a classroom setting, similar challenges were reported. As a result, practical training requirements were often reduced for final year students and postponed for the rest’. 

This is resulting in creative innovation in delivering practical skills online. ‘Some countries have found partial alternatives, including through the use of simulation tools or encouraging remote project work’. Workplace-based or private sector-delivered learning – including in online formats – is also rising to the fore, as are strengthened systems for recognition and validation of remote learning.

 

3. Equitable access to skills is now a core VET issue

The crisis exacerbated the issue of inequitable access to education and skills in many settings, particularly in lower income countries and more vulnerable households. In the shift to remote, barriers including hardware and software, inadequate infrastructure and internet connections, and the capacity to deliver and receive remote learning locked some out of the ability to learn.

This has implications for Australia’s rural and disadvantaged groups. The report recommends the universal provision of internet infrastructure and affordable connectivity, developing and maintaining access to distance learning platforms and learning spaces, collaboration with education technology companies at the national level and increasing emphasis on equality and inclusion.

 

4. The private sector will become a bigger partner

Emergency partnerships with the private sector were forged around the world to support VET through difficult times, with examples including ‘the provision of digital equipment and tools to teachers and underprivileged learners, technical services to facilitate digital and distance learning, and support for the development of new approaches to the assessment and certification of skills’.

Partnerships with the private sector are expected to grow in number and importance as they seek to collectively build economies and skills ecosystems ‘back better’ around the world. ‘It will be critical to foster these investments at the corporate level and to promote the adoption of beneficial practices among other private and public sector enterprises or training providers’.

 

5. VET needs to deliver work-relevant skills faster

Never has there been a bigger skills wake-up call for the global economy than 2020. In jurisdictions around the world, many governments moved further towards policies encouraging the rapid re-skilling of workforces to deal with the fallout of COVID-19, changing the way we think about technical and vocational education into a more work-aligned vision of learning over a lifetime.

There is no going back on this trend, which will involve ‘the rapid assessment of labour market trends and emerging skills needs and the agile adaptation of training programmes in response to those needs, through such measures as widening the scope of short-term training and modular training programmes that lead to micro-credentials, such as nanodegrees’.